Is there a better way to end a blisteringly hot Easter bank holiday weekend than with some jazzy, downtempo sounds from Bonobo? As one of the true contemporary masters of the genre, the Englishman has gathered a substantial following from the last decade's worth of productions, DJ sets and live performances. Indeed, even if you think you don't know Bonobo, AKA Simon Green, his work has been weaved into so many adverts, documentaries and computer games that it's almost impossible not to have subconsciously imbibed his music at some point.
Photo credit: Aziza Azul
That said, it was hard to gauge how this mellow sound might work live. It was a question that didn't seem to occur to many other people, though. After selling out his original Tuesday night slot at Camden's Koko, an extra Monday date had to be added. Before the main event on Monday, the near-capacity crowd were treated to the soothing sounds of Japanese artist Anchorsong and his harem of female string instrumentalists. He fiddled around with a keyboard and sampler to produce the beats and base elements of the songs, while the violins, violas and cellos gave his music a soaring, melancholic edge. An inspired choice for support act, he rattled through his new EP, which sounded like a cross between between Four Tet and Endtroducing.....-era DJ Shadow.
After the blinds came back up for Bonobo, it was clear he meant business, with an impressive array of instruments littering the stage. His hub of technology was nestled into stage right, with his multi-keyboardist behind him and drummer opposite on stage left. The back wall was reserved for the various string instruments, while up front stood a row of mic stands for the woodwind and brass sections, as well as singing.
The set began with a lone flute and drums building into the lilting sitar and xylophone melodies of "Flutter." He then introduced himself and commented on the gap between this outing and his last visit to the venue for the 2009 live DVD show. His latest vocal muse, Andreya Triana, then launched into a couple of her contributions to last year's album Black Sands. With effortless stage presence and a fantastic vocal range, she led the band through the more soulful numbers and even coaxed Green and his bass guitar out onto centre stage. Proceedings were dominated by the latest album, but when old favourites were dropped in, you got a reminder of just how consistent his back catalogue really is. The beguiling "Kota" from 2001's Animal Magic sounded just as fresh as 2010 highlight "Kiara."
Photo credit: Aziza Azul
Ruby Wood of the Submotion Orchestra then joined the troupe for "El Torro" and "Stay the Same." But just as things were threatening to get a bit too overtly coffeehouse jazz, the various instruments combined with some nasty dubstep beats to create the evening's crescendo, getting even the most chin-stroking among the crowd up and dancing. One-by-one the band were duly introduced before launching into "Black Sands" and "Between the Lines" for the encore, finishing with a rousing duet between Wood and Triana to replace Bajka's original vocals from "Days to Come." While Green's style of music does lend itself to pleasant backing tracks—whether on TV or in real life—don't write him off as just another chillout act until you've seen him in a live setting.